Autocratic leaders are facing democratic backlash from their people in many countries around the world, Human Rights Watch said in its annual global report published on Thursday.
The report said there have been several military coups in the past 12 months and crackdowns on opposition parties.
In Myanmar, the military seized power last February and ousted a democratically elected government, jailing President Win Myint and State Councilor Aung San Suu Kyi.
In Nicaragua, opposition members were jailed on treason charges ahead of November’s election, as President Daniel Ortega consolidated power.
In Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni was re-elected in January 2021 after security forces arrested and beaten opposition supporters and journalists, killed protesters, and disrupted opposition rallies.
Kenneth Roth said, “The conventional wisdom these days is that autocratic leaders are in dominance and democratic leaders are in decline, but when we looked back last year, we found that this approach is actually very superficial, very simplistic, Kenneth Roth said. Human Rights Watch executive director in an interview with VOA.
In fact, there are encouraging signs of a democratic rebellion, Roth said. “There has been a series of popular demonstrations, popular protests against democracy. And we have seen it in many countries: in Thailand, Myanmar and Sudan, in Uganda, Nicaragua, Cuba, Poland, in many parts of the world, These waves of support for human rights, for democracy, and against authoritarian rule.”
Despite the optimistic tone, the report lists the suppression of democracy and human rights in more than 100 countries. Thousands of opposition activists, human rights defenders and civilians were imprisoned, beaten or killed.
In Russia, opposition leader Alexei Navalny remains in prison over breaches related to parole after he accused the Kremlin of a nerve agent attack. Russia denied involvement.
“Legislative action that began in November 2020 intensified ahead of the September 2021 general elections,” the Human Rights Watch report said. “Several newly adopted laws broadened the authorities’ base to target a wide range of independent voices. Officials have been trying to defame, harass human rights defenders, journalists, independent groups, political opponents, and even academics. and used some of these laws and other measures to punish. Many people left Russia for their own safety or were expelled. The authorities took a special attack on independent journalism.”
Since December 2020, the report says, “the number of individuals and entities (that) branded (as ‘foreign media-foreign agents’) exploded, reaching 94 by early November. Most prominent investigative journalists and There are independent outlets,” the report said.
Human Rights Watch says Moscow continues its suppression of democracy at home and has extended support to autocrats abroad, including President Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus who jailed hundreds of anti-government protesters and activists after the 2020 election Which critics say was rigged.
Russia earlier this month sent troops to help its autocratic President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev to quell anti-government protests. Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, continues to offer military aid to his Syrian ally, Bashar al-Assad, who is accused of crimes against humanity in the 2011 uprising and subsequent brutal repression.
The report said China has laid off thousands of pro-democracy activists and intensified its crackdown on democratic freedoms in Hong Kong after a national security law was imposed on the region.
“Under President Xi Jinping, the Chinese government doubled down on repression inside and outside the country in 2021. Its ‘zero-tolerance’ policy towards COVID-19 strengthened the hand of the authorities, as they called for a harsh Implemented policies on public health,” says the Human Rights Watch report.
Authorities are committing crimes against humanity, including mass detention, torture and cultural persecution, as part of a broader and systematic attack on Uighurs and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang. Tibetans continue to be subjected to severe abuses including harsh and long imprisonment for exercising their basic rights,” the report said. China denies abuse in Xinjiang.
rule by force
Despite the seeming overwhelming power exerted by oppressive states, says Roth, there is reason for hope.
“Maintaining power by force is a very short-term strategy. If you look at Myanmar where the junta did a coup almost a year ago, they only have force. The whole population is against them. I think the army in Sudan too. They’re facing something similar. They just removed the civilian prime minister, but now they’re facing such a hostile population,” Roth told VOA.
The report says that in countries that still allow fair elections, opposition politicians – and voters – are becoming more sophisticated.
“We have seen the emergence in many countries that still allow broad political alliances, a fairly fair election of coalitions for democracy. And we saw these alliances ousted Prime Minister (Andrej) Babi in the Czech Republic, he said. In Israel (Benjamin) got rid of Netanyahu, they were actually behind the coalition that chose Joe Biden to contest (US President) Donald Trump. And today in Hungary and Turkey, Prime Minister (Victor) Orban and President (Recep Tayyip) Erdogan is facing the same broad coalition that is actually jeopardizing his hold on power,” Roth said.
Human Rights Watch says leaders of democracies should end their support for autocratic regimes like Saudi Arabia and Egypt – and do better things for their people.
“Especially today when there are really big global challenges, climate change, pandemics, poverty and inequality, threats from technology. These are big problems that demand visionary leadership,” Roth told VOA.
“But instead, usually we’re getting minimalism, incremental change, really short-term steps from democratic leaders, and that’s not enough. If that’s all they can do, they’re going to create frustration and desperation, which is a despotism.” There are going to be breeding grounds for a second wind for people.”
The Human Rights Watch report strikes an optimistic tone – but cautions that “the outcome of the fight between autocracy and democracy remains uncertain.”